Thrilling ‘Force Awakens’ made me cry tears of joy

If 2015 has produced a more satisfying pop-culture moment than seeing Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) reunited with their beloved Millennium Falcon, accompanied by a bit of John Williams’ iconic score, I don’t want to know about it.

I’m afraid it might melt my brain.

As for the rest of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” — relax, there will be no spoilers — it isn’t a great film. Newsflash, neither was the original, despite its winning six Oscars and being nominated for four more, including best picture.

But what director J.J. Abrams, working with a script he co-wrote along with Lawrence Kasdan (“The Empire Strikes Back,” “Return of the Jedi”) and Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”), has crafted is very nearly the perfect moviegoing experience.

The thrilling “The Force Awakens” is more satisfying than even the most optimistic “Star Wars” fans could have hoped for after those disastrous prequels. I grinned like an idiot throughout much of it. And I’m comfortable enough in my masculinity, or lack thereof, to admit I cried tears of joy more than once.

In the years following the Empire’s defeat in “Return of the Jedi,” Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing. But with a dangerous new enemy on the rise, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has sent Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the best pilot in the resistance, to find him.

The First Order, which gives off some serious Third Reich vibes, has risen from the ashes of the Empire. The group even seemingly retained the Empire’s general contractor, as its base once again boasts the classic cavernous void bridged only by a perilously skinny catwalk.

The First Order’s leadership, including the masked Kylo Ren (Adam Driver, “Girls”), fears that if Luke were to return, a new generation of Jedis will rise. So he and his Stormtroopers land on the remote planet of Jakku, where Poe has just secured a map that leads to Luke, and begin burning and slaughtering everything in sight.

All the Stormtroopers except FN-2187 (John Boyega) participate in the carnage. It’s his first mission, and he isn’t having any of it. The first chance FN gets, he’s outta there.

Before the fighting begins, though, Poe hides that map inside the droid BB-8, and the little fella eventually makes its way to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a Jakku scavenger who somehow understands its boops and beeps. Once the First Order realizes where the map is, BB-8 becomes the most hunted hunk of metal in that galaxy far, far away.

When FN, having shed his Stormtrooper garb and been rechristened Finn, sees Rey being attacked by thieves hoping to capture BB-8, he tries to intervene before she proves more than capable of defending herself. After that awkward first meeting, the duo forge a deep bond and are rarely apart.

In order to keep the “Force Awakens” viewing experience as pure as possible — and as the result of a deep-seated fear of the Disney legal team — that’s all the plot you’ll get out of me.

Boyega and Ridley, the latter of whom comes across a bit like a young, properly fed Keira Knightley, make for solid additions to the franchise. And the versatile Isaac, so good in everything from “Inside Llewyn Davis” to “Ex Machina” to “A Most Violent Year,” is a terrifically appealing action star as well.

The real draw for “Star Wars” fans, though, are the original characters, whose arrivals are doled out in proper intervals so as to not overload anyone’s joy sensors.

Ford has retained the requisite action chops. His Han is still smuggling, still swindling, still talking his way out of jams — or, at least, trying to. The only real difference is that he’s upgraded from that classic vest to a full jacket this time around.

Han and Chewie turn out to be major players in “The Force Awakens.” Leia gets a handful of scenes. And as for Luke, well, the less said about Luke the better. (Seriously, Disney’s strike team would murder me where I stand.)

The action-heavy plot stumbles a bit whenever characters feel the need to confront their feelings.

The name Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), a minor character compared with the amount of attention she’s been getting, sounds mighty goofy — too much like Michael Jackson’s dream role or a lost aide project involving Elton John and David Bowie.

And it’s a little distracting whenever Kylo Ren removes his helmet and you can see it’s the guy from “Girls” who’s wielding that distinctive, cross-hilt lightsaber.

Overall, though, “The Force Awakens” is just such an exhilarating experience, it’s very nearly everything you could want from such a large-scale spectacle.

And, with it, Abrams has proven himself to be a better George Lucas than George Lucas.

May the Force be with him.

Contact culture critic Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com. On Twitter: @life_onthecouch

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